Sherrard & Roe
424 Church Street, Suite 2000
Nashville, TN 37219
Dear Ms. Falls:
This responds to your request for an interpretation of whether, in replacing stolen vehicle identification number (VIN) plates as prescribed by Tennessee state law, your client, Nissan, would conform to this agency's requirements concerning VINs. The answer is Nissan would not violate our requirements when it replaces the stolen "VIN plate." However, there may be other aspects of replacing stolen VIN plates that are under the U.S. Department of Justice's law enforcement jurisdiction.
By way of background, Standard No. 115, Vehicle identification number - basic requirements, requires manufacturers to assign a VIN to each motor vehicle, to simplify vehicle information retrieval and to increase the accuracy and efficiency of vehicle recall campaigns. S4.5 of the standard specifies that VINs shall appear on a permanent part of the vehicle or on a separate label or plate, called the "VIN plate." S4.6 requires the VIN for passenger cars, multipurpose passenger vehicles and trucks of 10,000 lbs or less GVWR to be included in the passenger compartment, and manufacturers typically meet S4.6 by placing the VIN plate on the vehicle's dashboard.
Your letter explained that Nissan manufactures cars and light trucks in Tennessee, and leases these vehicles. Sometimes, the VIN plate in the passenger compartment is stolen from the leased vehicle, but the vehicle is otherwise not tampered with. You stated that:
Section 55-5111 of Tennessee Code Annotated provides that it is a Class C misdemeanor for any person to buy, sell, offer for sale, or possess a motor vehicle from which the manufacturer's serial, engine, or transmission number or other distinguishing number or identification mark or number has been removed, defaced, covered, altered, or destroyed. In addition, '55-5-112 provides that
the owner of an original engine, serial, engine, or transmission, or "other number or mark" may restore such number or mark pursuant to a permit issued by the Criminal Investigation Unit of the Tennessee Department of Safety.
You asked whether Nissan, the vehicle owner, would be "in full compliance" with NHTSA's regulations if Nissan replaced stolen VIN plates in accordance with Tennessee law. In response to your question, we note that Standard No. 115 applies only to new motor vehicles. In the event a VIN plate is stolen from a leased (i.e., used) motor vehicle, NHTSA has no authority to require that any party replace the VIN plate. Thus, under NHTSA's regulations, if the VIN plate is stolen from a used vehicle, Nissan, the owner, may use its discretion whether to replace the VIN plate.
However, please note that there could be other implications under Federal law about replacing stolen VIN plates. The U.S. Department of Justice has jurisdiction over stolen VIN plates as a law enforcement matter. Therefore, I suggest that you consult with the Justice Department about possible Federal law enforcement implications of replacing the stolen VIN plates.
I hope this information is helpful. If you have any further questions, please contact Dorothy Nakama of my staff at this address or at (202) 366-2992.
John Womack Acting Chief Counsel